England's Covid outbreak is now biggest it's been since JANUARY
15th October 2021

England’s Covid outbreak is now biggest it’s been since JANUARY: Official testing survey estimates 890,000 people – or one in 60 – were infected last week as minister rules out a Christmas lockdown despite rising cases

  • Covid cases in England are at their highest level since January, with one in 60 people infected last week
  • The ONS estimates 890,000 people – 1.6% of the population – had the virus on October 9, up 13.2% in a week
  • Infections have not been as high since the UK began to recover from the second wave in mid-January
  • It comes as data from the Department of Health showed cases reached a three-month high yesterday
  • And England’s chief medical officer claimed this winter will be ‘exceptionally difficult’ for the NHS
  • But despite the bleak figures, the Transport Secretary today ruled out another lockdown this Christmas

Covid cases in England are at their highest level since January, with one in 60 people infected on any given day last week, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated 890,000 people in England – 1.63 per cent of the entire population – had the virus on October 9, up 13.2 per cent on the previous weekly figure.

Infections have not been as high since the UK began to recover from the second wave in mid-January, when 1million people were carrying the virus, according to the statisticians’ calculations.

Cases now appear to be rising in all cohorts, apart from those aged 35 to 49, where the ONS said the trend is uncertain. But the latest hike has been fuelled by infections among pupils, with one in 12 youngsters aged 11 to 16 infected.

It comes as separate data from the Department of Health showed cases reached a three-month high yesterday, with 45,066 new infections registered.

Experts have long warned of a fourth wave of infections this winter, as pupils return to classrooms, workers head back to offices and people begin socialising indoors in greater numbers.

And England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty yesterday claimed this winter will be ‘exceptionally difficult’ for the NHS even if there is not a surge of infections, due to a resurgence of flu and other seasonal viruses.

No10 has plans in place to bring back restrictions if the rollout of booster vaccines and jabs to over-12s fail to curb the impact of Covid on the health service. And ministers previously warned they could not rule out another lockdown as a last resort.

But despite the bleak figures, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today ruled out another lockdown this Christmas, saying there will ‘be no issues’ with seeing loved ones around the festive period.

No10 introduced tough restrictions last December which stopped millions from seeing their families, despite Boris Johnson repeatedly dismissing the possibility of Christmas being cancelled before the move.


The graphs show the proportion of people testing positive for Covid continued to increase in England and Wales and drop in Scotland, while the trend in Northern Ireland in the week ending October 9

The ONS data shows the estimated daily percentage of the population testing positive for Covid based on nose and throat swabs by age group. School children were the most likely to test positive for Covid in the week ending October 9 

Grant Shapps has ruled out another Covid lockdown over Christmas despite cases hitting a three-month high

The estimates from the ONS show one in 60 people were infected in the seven days up to October 9, up from one in 70 last week, but less than the one in 50 estimated to have the virus at the peak of the second wave in January.

Data shows the infections are mostly driven by rates among schoolchildren. One in 12 pupils aged 11 to 16 in England were estimated to have Covid last week (8.1 per cent) – the highest positivity rate for any age group.

Cases are also on the rise among 16 to 24-year-olds, with 1.1 per cent testing positive, up from 0.8 per cent last week.

And 3.1 per cent of children aged two to 10 are thought to have the virus, a 0.3 per week-on-week rise.

Infections increased by 0.1 per cent among 24 to 34-year-olds (0.6 per cent) and 50 to 69-year-olds (0.8 per cent).

Meanwhile, infections also appeared to increase in the 35 to 49 (1.2 per cent) and over-70s (0.6 per cent) cohorts.

Cases were also trending upwards in Wales in the week ending October 9, while infections continued to decline in Scotland and the trajectory was unclear in Northern Ireland.

In Wales, around one in 45 people were thought to have Covid (2.18 per cent) – up from one in 55 the previous week – marking the highest proportion of infected people since estimates began last July.

In Northern Ireland, the latest estimate is one in 120 (0.82 per cent), up from 130 the previous week.

And in Scotland, the figure is one in 80 (1.26 per cent) down from one in 60 the previous week.

While infection levels in England are nearing the levels seen at the peak in January, hospitalisations and deaths – which lag two to three weeks behind infection rates – are expected to be kept much lower due to the success of the vaccine rollout.

The percentage of people testing positive for Covid is estimated to have increased in all regions of England except the East Midlands, London and the North East, the ONS said.

But the Transport Secretary dismissed concerns Britain could be plunged into another lockdown around Christmas again, despite cases trending upwards.

Mr Shapps told Sky News: ‘With Christmas last year we were worried about being able to see loved ones and families.

‘There will be no issues with that this year.

‘And we’ll make sure that the supply chain is doing what it should be doing, which is what these measures that we’re taking, including this alteration to this cabotage today is designed to do.’ 

Department of Health bosses posted more than 45,000 Covid cases across the UK yesterday, up 10.7 per cent on last Thursday’s figure of 40,701.

It was the highest new daily total since July 20 — the day after England’s ‘Freedom Day’ — when infections reached 46,558. The highest daily total ever was 62,322 on January 6, at the peak of the second wave.

The number of people dying with the virus also increased, with 157 victims recorded, marking a nine per cent rise on the previous week. 

And hospitalisations also crept up by one per cent, with 719 people being admitted on Sunday, the latest date data is available for.

The map shows the estimated proportion of people in the UK who had Covid on week ending October 9

The graphs show the percentage of people the ONS estimates had Covid in each of England’s nine regions on the week ending October 9

No10 admits proof of jabs may be required in nightclubs and sports grounds this winter under Covid ‘Plan B’ 

Brits could be required to show Covid vaccine passports at venues under Boris Johnson’s Covid ‘Plan B’. 

Ministers dramatically ditched plans to adopt certification rules for nightclubs and other major venues following a huge Tory outcry earlier this month.

But in unveiling his winter plan to fight off another surge in infections, Boris Johnson admitted restrictions such as vaccine passports would be ‘kept in reserve’.

Now the Government has confirmed passports will still form part of its ‘Plan B’.

Vaccine certificates will be required for people attending nightclubs, music venues, festivals and sports grounds, in the event of a fourth wave overwhelming the NHS.

Plan A — the country’s first line of defence — banks on dishing out booster vaccines to protect the vulnerable and jabbing children.

Plan B — which ministers hope will be enough to stop the country from succumbing to another full-blown lockdown — also includes re-enforcing face masks indoors and work from home guidance.

Speaking at the Royal College of General Practitioners’ annual conference in Liverpool yesterday, Professor Whitty suggested Britain could be in a worse situation by Christmas.

He said: ‘I wish I could claim the sunlit uplands and it’ll all be fantastic by Christmas but, sadly, I’m afraid that’s not the case.’ 

Experts have long warned of an expected surge this winter, fuelled by pupils returning to schools, workers heading back to offices and people socialising more indoors.

Ministers are relying on a successful rollout of vaccines to 12 to 15-year-olds and boosters to the over-50s, healthcare staff and the most vulnerable to quell the impact of another wave.

But it has put together a ‘Plan B’ that would see the return of face coverings and work from home guidance if the NHS faces unsustainable pressure.

Professor Whitty said: ‘In terms of where Covid will go over the winter, well I think the winter as a whole, I regret to say, is going to be exceptionally difficult for the NHS.

‘That is, irrespective of whether we have a relatively low but non trivial amount of Covid, or whether we actually have a further surge in the winter.’

He said scientific modellers will all give different projections of how the coming months will play out.  

Professor Whitty said: ‘I think what we’re confident of is the very top end, [what] we would have faced potentially had things gone wrong last winter is not going to happen, barring an extraordinary escape mutant variant.

‘But let’s assume we don’t get something which actually can basically evade our defences completely, I think the top end risks are much lower.

‘But we could certainly go up, we’re only two to three doubling times away from a really quite serious pressure on the NHS and it’s already serious, but one that actually will be very difficult to deal with.

‘So the margin of error is quite small.’  

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